Terra Sigillata

If you’re tired of talking about the debacle that was PepsiCo’s paid blog that was sprung on us here at ScienceBlogs earlier this week, please carry on elsewhere.

However, this episode is certainly the talk of both scientists and journalists. I suspect that this case will be discussed and dissected in the coming months at conferences and in journalism classrooms around the world.

Two questions have arisen in the last few days between discussion with my wife and fellow bloggers that have not been answered. One has a true answer while the other is more of a value judgement:

1. PepsiCo’s Mehmood Khan, MD, put up a post at the existing corporate home of the Food Frontiers blog about their 36-hour presence at ScienceBlogs:

Earlier this week, PepsiCo’s blog, Food Frontiers, was added to ScienceBlogs.com so we could begin open discussions about the role science can play in finding solutions to global nutrition challenges.

Since the announcement of our participation in ScienceBlogs.com, we’ve heard some very candid feedback from the ScienceBlogs community. As many of you have undoubtedly heard by now, the Food Frontiers blog has been removed from ScienceBlogs. In hearing the community’s feedback, we agree with this decision and feel that the best approach is to take a step back and first examine the role industry scientists, such as myself, can play in the discussion about nutrition science within the larger scientific community.

We knew going in that there would be real differences among scientists within and outside of industry. Our intent is to embrace that conversation, share what we’re doing, and have open discussions to learn from one another as we move toward real solutions. We look forward to engaging in those discussions in communities such as ScienceBlogs as well as here on Food Frontiers.

The specific wording that the blog “has been removed from ScienceBlogs” raises the question as to whether ScienceBlogs management canceled their contract with PepsiCo or whether PepsiCo realized they didn’t want to stay with all of the turmoil associated with their presence. While we remaining bloggers at ScienceBlogs were not privy to negotiations at Seed Media Group’s New York City offices, a contract between the two entities had to be dissolved.

Therefore, do you think that ScienceBlogs management initiated discussions with PepsiCo to cancel their contract or did PepsiCo actually initiate the discussion?

2. There has been much congratulatory commentary regarding those bloggers who were “principled” and left ScienceBlogs in protest. Many of the folks who left I consider dear friends as do I consider those who made such congratulatory statements to others. Some discussion has focused on the fact that professional journalists and book authors had no choice but to leave lest they strike a blow to their long-term credibility. Some bloggers feel that the debacle is outside of their personal blog mission to provide science content (i.e., they do not consider themselves professional journalists).

However, is it implicit that those of us who remain at ScienceBlogs are “unprincipled” or are otherwise lacking in credibility?

I’ve been trying to get a Polldaddy survey to render here for both of these questions but there appears to be some technical difficulty. And, as you might guess, there is no technical support person to contact here to help. Looks to me as though the Polldaddy widget works just fine in my backed-up blog at WordPress.

So, in the meantime, let us know in the comments what you might think about these two queries.

Comments

  1. #1 Luna_the_cat
    July 10, 2010

    Regarding question 1., I have no idea, since I have no facts beyond what you just provided me there. No comment.

    Regarding 2. — no, it does NOT make those of you who stayed automatically unprincipled, in my view at least. I am very aware from RL(tm) that highly principled people whose principles are in broad agreement can nevertheless follow different chains of reasoning (fuelled by different reasons) about “appropriate action” and end up with very different results. This doesn’t make any automatically wrong, nor does it in this case.

  2. #2 becca
    July 10, 2010

    1) I’m guessing the % of SB fans ticked off over this move >> the % of Pepsi fans ticked off by this move, ergo SB had much more *motivation* to initiate the discussion. That said, not being terribly familiar with negotiating contracts, I don’t understand why it matters who initiates the discussion.

    2) There are two possible categories of principles that might cause people to leave:

    A) People can’t take the blow to their credibility. The ‘ethics’ of this depend on whether their chief need for credibility is personal pride, or based on a realistic assessment of how much progress they are making in some bigger goal- like scientific literacy. Honestly, I see this category of motivation as predominantly selfish, unless someone has a very good idea about the readers they have, the readers they would have with the Pepsi blog as a neighbor, and the factors each of these groups weigh (and how much) in determining whether a source is trustworthy. In short, it’s likely awfully speculative. Although I suppose if someone saw another blog network go totes down the crapper after getting too corporate that might mean the fears were valid- the next question is ‘how much good are you doing in the first place’ and I think that varies according to the blog and the purpose(s) of the authors.
    That said, there is nothing unseemly about wanting to have one’s *personal* integrity less questionable because of one’s personal selfish goals for blogging. It’s a matter of sensible personal cost-benefit analysis at that point though, not some noble-minded sacrifice of quitting SB for the larger good.
    B) The other category, which you don’t so much bring up but I think is causing immense distress to some of my favorite bloggers, is whether it is ethical to continue working for a business that has, reportedly, in some cases not treated it’s workers so well. For that ethical category of issue, there are a lot of questions:
    *How bad was the behavior? How widespread?
    *How much good is Seed doing in general?
    *Is Seed reformable?
    *If you actually stopped and thought to ask the same questions (e.g. in the treatment of students by professors at your university), are you already tolerating worse business practices that you should protest? This question is somewhat tangential, because the number of places you can be outraged about at the same time >1, but as a practical matter there does have to be some realistic assessment of the question
    *Is this a battle I want to prioritize?

    Anyone leaving to enact better treatment of writers, or *staying* and *acting* to reform Seed to produce better treatment of writers, could be acting out of noble principles for this category of issues.

    Of course, I suspect in many cases people are leaving out of a combination of not wanting to be treated badly as a writer *and* not wanting to continue supporting Seed as an organization which is not behaving well. Which is why it gets awfully messy to categorize ‘principled’ behavior and ‘non-principled’ behavior, but it’s important to remember the amazing powers of the human mind in post-hoc rationalizations.

  3. #3 Pteryxx
    July 10, 2010

    Personally, I’m not sure either of your two questions can be addressed without considering them oversimplified. For instance, #1 may conflate which entity first suggested contract termination with which entity first noticed or monitored the outraged reaction in real time. There may also have been termination provisions in the contract beforehand; or, as some have suggested, Sb and/or Pepsico may have known going in that an outraged response was likely and prepared some sort of contingency plan. My personal thought is that “which entity initiated termination” is probably a meaningless question unless one side had to forcibly convince the other, which I find unlikely.

    Question #2, again in my opinion, doesn’t address the difference between actual and perceived loss of credibility, which in turn affects the personal cost that each blogger in their different situations had to consider. My personal view is that since the situation was caused by Seed management without the knowledge or input of the bloggers here, said bloggers can’t *rationally* be held responsible for that breach of ethics. Leaving and staying can both be considered principled stances: weighing personal loss of credibility and the significance of conflicts of interest, versus collective loss of credibility and the importance of preserving an open scientific community.

    I think a truer measure of integrity will be displayed by everyone’s actions in the immediate future than what they’ve done in the immediate past.

  4. #4 Greg Fish
    July 10, 2010

    do you think that ScienceBlogs management initiated discussions with PepsiCo to cancel their contract or did PepsiCo actually initiate the discussion?

    I think it was probably mutual. The backlash Pepsi’s reps and Adam Bly were seeing grow on an hourly basis would’ve definitely lead both parties to conclude that Food Frontiers being effectively syndicated on Sb, was a bad idea. I don’t think we’ll know who made the first phone call unless we’re explicitly told by both Bly and Pepsi, but it seems like the decision was mutual. The network was becoming unmanageable for Bly, and Pepsi’s PR people didn’t want to deal with hundreds of comments filled with rage per post.

    is it implicit that those of us who remain at ScienceBlogs are “unprincipled” or are otherwise lacking in credibility?

    Why? Did you sponsor the PepsiCo blog? Did you endorse it and its content? Did you blog for their PR flacks? Then why would we think you would be less principled than those who left? Besides, I can understand the technical difficulties of moving a blog and really didn’t expect anyone with good traffic to move anywhere in the first place.

    Big blogs need a good platform. Someone like me, with between 1,200 and 1,600 views a day on average has a small enough blog to move wherever I please and even then it’s a huge pain since the URL will change, Google will take months to catch up, and the syndication with Google News and other network partnerships is gone. When I moved from True/Slant back to my own domain (due to technical issues we just couldn’t work out), my traffic went through an insane phase in which it fluctuated wildly and readers had trouble keeping up with the move.

    A big blog like Orac’s, or the giant Pharyngula, are very hard to move and all the difficulties with a URL change are multiplied tenfold for them. Plus, they need a small server farm to support their traffic, otherwise, they’ll have to pay about $50 to $100 a month to avoid the site exceeding its bandwidth on a regular basis, and having users unable to load their newest posts.

  5. #5 biochem belle
    July 10, 2010

    With regards to the first question, I think it’s more likely that ScienceBlogs management initiated the discussions. Since much of the revenue is generated by site traffic, losing those who generate content cannot be good for business. It’s also possible that it became a mutual decision quite quickly, given the less than favorable commentary about PepsiCo on the ScienceBlogs network.

    In reference to the second question, the answer is no-staying at ScienceBlogs does not a priori make you or any other blogger “unprincipled”. Many bloggers who have stayed published posts that were very critical of the whole situation and contributed to the changes that were made. If you had jumped on the SEED bandwagon and promoted the blog without question or without highlighting the commercial component, then we could start tossing around the unprincipled label.

  6. #6 Candid Engineer
    July 10, 2010

    Of course staying does not mean you are unprincipled. All it means is that you were not bothered enough by PepsiGate to make the move.

    As biochem belle said, it’s not as if you were ready to promote the whole PepsiCo blog, it’s something that happened here without your permission. And since it’s now gone, it’s not even like you have to condone it’s presence to stay.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2010

    The first question is very interesting, but may turn out to be less so. It may be that both parties made a similar decision prior to communicating their final thinking on the matter. I suggest this becasue the final outcome became quite obvious at some point.

    Your second question is also something I’ve been thinking about. Carl Zimmer made a comment that suggested that there was a spectrum of principled behavior correlated to a spectrum of action (those who left having higher principles). I pointed out in a comment on his blog post that he may not have meant what looks like an inappropriate value judgement, and he agreed. But it was interesting that a smart thoughtful journalist who is very good at expressing himself automatically slid into the rhetoric of ethical spectrum, even though he was not consciously thinking of that.

    Later, I noticed that Eric at Primate Diaries had a similar statement. I wrote him a private email bout it, and he, like Carl, essentially agreed that he had not meant to imply that there is an ethical spectrum, but again, there it was in what he said, even though he was quite honestly aghast at the thought of such a thing.

    As an aside, this brings something else to the forefront: If I was an asshole (and I very well may be) and I did’t like Carl or Eric, I might well not give them a pass. I might insist that they need to take responsibility for their writing and must live up to the fact that they said this offensive thing about 70 or so of their colleagues (the ones that did not seek the high ground of quitting Sb). Much of the conversation on scienceblogs and elsewhere is shaped by that kind of culturally adapted ethically, and I find it annoying. It happens that I like/respect Carl and Eric. So I didn’t get to be an assohole about it. (But of coruse, I wouldn’t have anyway, I’m sure). But I digress.

    One could also turn this around and say, and this has been said by various bloggers and commenters, that those who left instantly not only don’t have a higher ethical sense, but rather, have a lower sense of proportion, or are touchy or raw in some way that they can’t control themselves and are too reactionary, etc. etc.

    What I find interesting about that, and I’m pretty sure this is very important: Look at the range of people who a) left, b) almost left and c) really really heavily threatened to leave. Look especailly at the first group. What holds them all together? What makes them similar?

    Nothing,as far as I can tell. They are not ethics bloggers, they are not topically aligned, they are not all book writers (though maybe disproportionately so? …I doubt that matters). There is a trend of severity of complaint: Journalist types and those involved in health issues linked to diet and nutrition said more about the ways they were offended than others. I suspect that difference, though, was in a matter of ability to instantly articulate their point of view.

    I strongly suspect that the factors that determined who simply walked out vs who didn’t even mention walking out, and shades of different in between, was mostly a matter of very individual difference. People even differed in how much they knew about what was going on and when (some bloggers actually ignore their blogs for a few days at a time!).

    In the end, I suspect there is no pattern of any consequence. And, certainly, there is no ethical spectrum predicted by who did what and when, and associated with what rhetoric.

  8. #8 ecologist
    July 10, 2010

    I have no idea about question 1, but I would guess it was initiated by SB.

    As for question 2, no, staying does not make you unprincipled. There are lots of principled responses, including leaving at once, going on hiatus with the option to leave if things don’t improve, remaining active but expressing concern and keeping the option to leave, remaining active and expressing support for the Pepsi blog, …..

    The point I’m trying to make is that the incident and the response to it were a process. In the end, the feedback from readers and writers of blogs at SB brought about a change (one that I was glad to see). There were, and are, many options for principled response.

    In fact, I hope that some of the folks who left will come back.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2010

    BTW, in reference especailly to Becca’s comment, but generally important: We do NOT have a sample of who “left” vs. did not. This entire thing happened over 24 or 36 hours. We have a sample of people who left instantly vs those who may or may not have left, say, a few hours or a few days later. I’m certainly in that latter category. I made the conscious decision to wait a few days or even a couple of weeks to see what happened, since I thought it was a very dynamic situation.

  10. #10 Hank Fox
    July 10, 2010

    No way to answer that first question. You seem to be asking “What is your opinion about unknown facts?”

    Second question: I don’t have any strong feelings about those who stayed versus those who departed. As a for-instance, PZ Myers brought the subject up, allowing great numbers of us readers to make ourselves aware of the PepsiCo site and the conflict, but did not depart from ScienceBlogs — not, I think, because he’s some traitor to the cause, but because he was STILL THINKING ABOUT IT, AND GATHERING MORE DATA. Considering the uproar, there was a very good chance, even early in the conflict, that PepsiCo (or ScienceBlogs) would abandon the effort. Among this readership, an obvious injustice (PepsiCo attempting to trade on the blogger-scientists’ credibility) would obviously provoke an outraged response.

    Those who left were necessary to give the argument heft in the eyes of ScienceBlogs and PepsiCo, and kudos to them all for having the courage to react so quickly to this travesty.

    To those considering coming back to ScienceBlogs, I don’t think they’d suffer any loss of honor or reputability. They made their point with courage; they’re free to go back to ScienceBlogs or depart as their desires dictate. (And I think ScienceBlogs should publicly offer to take them all back, with no anger or enmity.)

  11. #11 Hank Fox
    July 10, 2010

    One thing I DO take away from the thing: There were a number of wait-and-see comments throughout the blogs among the readers. Being a journalist, I can excuse non-journalists for failing to immediately understand the point, and it’s completely okay with me that they felt cautious.

    What I can’t forgive is those commenters who acted like the rest of us with strong feelings about the incident were insane or hideously overreacting.

    I suspect some of them may have been PepsiCo sock puppets assembled on short notice to quash the conflict, but I’d bet some of them were authentic readers of ScienceBlogs.

    They’re welcome to their opinions, then and now, but they’re NOT welcome to my respect after having done what they did — treating people (who, as it turns out, knew more about the true nature of the situation than they did) as if they were crazy.

    One who sticks in my mind was a certain “dewey” among the commenters at ERV. Nasty little prick.

    And just as a side note, I thought the blogger at ERV was a bit of a dick for his/her approach to the thing, calling some of those who left “spineless” and “pig fuckers,” etc. in a post titled “SciBlogs caves to hysterics.”

  12. #12 Dirk Hanson
    July 10, 2010

    “However, is it implicit that those of us who remain at ScienceBlogs are “unprincipled” or are otherwise lacking in credibility?”
    ——-

    No. But what IS clear is that most of those who stayed are scientists, not journalists, and that breaching the wall between editorial and advertising didn’t ring the same kind of alarm bells for them as it did for journalists.

  13. #13 Brian Switek
    July 10, 2010

    Good questions, Abel.

    1) I have no idea, but it’s an important question to ask. Throughout this entire ordeal, I have been extremely discouraged by the lack of communication between SEED HQ and Sb. Bly has enough time to start up a blog, but – outside of a tin-eared letter – not let us know what’s up? Not a good sign. As I have said elsewhere, this latest event is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of poor communication and disrespect coming from SEED.

    2) I don’t think you – or any other blogger who has decided to stay – is “unprincipled” or lacks integrity for doing so. I guess that’s the problem with trying to support people who have left/taken a prominent stand (especially in places like Twitter where there’s very limited space to write) – by saying someone who took a particular action in this kerfuffle has integrity, are you also implying that people who have not done the same lack integrity? I don’t think the people who have supported the Sb diaspora mean it this way, but (if I were on the other side of things) I might be a touch put off by such statements, myself.

    Every blogger has decided to stay, go on hiatus, or leave for personal reasons – even though Scicurious, David Dobbs, Rebecca Skloot, and I all left (among others) I imagine our reasons for doing so partially overlap and partially differ. For me, this was a “last straw” kind of event which underscored my growing frustration with SEED. The fact that Sb was going to start running Pepsi advertisements under the guise of a science blog was a large part of my decision, but, to tell you the truth, the momentum behind my decision had been building for a while. That’s why I don’t look down or have any ill feelings towards those who stay – their experience is not mine, and what has become intolerable in my perspective might not be the same to them. Even in the cases where I disagree strongly with the reaction of other bloggers here (like ERV and Jason Rosenhouse) I don’t think of them as corrupt or unprincipled for staying put.

    For me, it was the right time to go, but I can’t tell other bloggers what they should or should not do in this situation. Each writer has to assess the situation for themselves and then make their move. I have made mine, and I will be curious to see what other writers do over the next few days and weeks.

  14. #14 Ed Yong
    July 10, 2010

    I have no opinion on (1) but I think I should probably say something about 2, given that I wrote a tweet yesterday in support of the departed bloggers that led to (a) the implicit assumption that you describe and (b) me getting taken to task by GrrlScientist and Drugmonkey. Which was fair enough.

    Unconstrained by a 140-character limit, I think it is possible to applaud the principles of people who left, without casting aspersions on those of people who have (thus far) stayed. I think people who left made a brave decision (as Zimmer pointed out, any blog transition involves a loss of readers and a lot of inconvenience). And I think it was a principled one, whether those principles revolve around journalistic integrity or around feelings about Pepsi itself.

    But it’s also notable that many of the bloggers who stayed had the exact same objections. The fact that they didn’t react in the same way as those who left illustrates nothing about their character. It’s a complex decision influenced by many variables and individual circumstances dictate how people choose to express their principles. For someone who knows they’ll get a spot on another blogging community, or who has a large enough readership to survive independently, it’s perhaps an easier decision. It’s a different situation for people who rely more heavily on blogging income or who has only just started building up a readership.

    So no, I don’t cast any judgment upon any of the Sciblings for their decisions (except possibly the example highlighted by Hank Fox, which was about as puerile a reaction as you could get). And as Hank said, I do cast serious judgment on people who accused others of taking this too seriously, or overreacting.

    Perhaps the biggest failing here was that people like myself who were trying to support the departed Sciblings by applauding their decisions failed to consider that those who opted to stay were going through an equally difficult time in a less public way. For that, apologies.

  15. #15 Jennifer Ouellette
    July 10, 2010

    What Ed, Hank and Dirk said. I equally support those who left, and those who spoke out yet stayed. It’s a personal decision, and not always clearcut, because different people have different priorities and predicaments. The journalists were understandably more upset than the scientists, because that’s a really important “wall” in our profession. It just can’t be tolerated. The “it’s no big deal” crowd were being disingenuous at best, but the spittle-flecked incoherent rantings of ERV/”The Situation” did provide some comic relief. :)

  16. #16 Hillary Rosner
    July 10, 2010

    I agree with Ed and others here that support for those who left in no way implies disdain (or even lack of support) for those who stayed. It’s an incredibly tough decision and there’s no right answer. As a science journalist and someone who’s very concerned about the blurring of these ad/edit lines, I’m heartened by the fact that some bloggers were in a position where they could take a stand. That bodes well, I believe, for the future. But those who spoke up yet stayed did something important too. I hope Science Blogs emerges stronger from all this, so that it can stand as an example of a site that made a wrong call, listened to its bloggers and remedied the situation, and became a beacon for editorial integrity. Who knows, it could happen…

  17. #17 Samantha
    July 10, 2010

    Re: Question 1 – I have no data upon which to form a hypothesis. :/

    Re: Question 2 – Definitely not “unprincipled”. Every day, we decide what battles we want to fight, and {insert fictional character here} only knows how many there are out there. You can’t be expected to fight every battle, every where, or you’ll not get anywhere on any of them. Everyone has their own way of reaching a conclusion, and if people reached the conclusion that leaving was what was best for them, so be it. Doesn’t mean your ethical calculator is miscalibrated, it must has a different way of working. :)

    I’m glad you stayed. BTW – congrats on the millionth page view!

  18. #18 ERV
    July 10, 2010

    but the spittle-flecked incoherent rantings of ERV/”The Situation” did provide some comic relief. :)

    Well I personally really liked your reasoned response as to why Im actually wrong.

    :-D

  19. #19 PZ Myers
    July 10, 2010

    To complicate it further, there was more to the story than just principled outrage at an ethics violation. There has also been a simmering discontent over very poor tech support at Sb, and some purely pragmatic forces are contributing to the unrest.

    I was sitting on the fence waiting for some resolution before I jumped one way or the other — ultimately, I think the management at Seed is idealistic and well-intentioned. Good intentions don’t mean you won’t make catastrophic errors, unfortunately, and so I gave them time to sort it out, and was 90% confident they’d do the right thing.

    One real problem that might have prevented this from happening in the first place is that the sciencebloggers have almost no communication with the Seed overlords, and vice versa. That has the good effect of giving us a lot of independence, and the bad effect that all the talent on the Sb side of operations is virtually completely untapped by the Seed Media Group side. A few conference calls or email discussions, none of this chaos would have erupted.

  20. #20 David Dobbs
    July 10, 2010

    I don’t think I can improve on Ed’s articulation: I agree completely.

  21. #21 razib
    July 10, 2010

    1) i assume that seed was proactive in cutting it off. this was a much bigger issue for SMG.

    2) i don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution for the problem. people start at different points anyway. my exp. with SMG is recent enough that i really empathize with the ‘last straw’ sentiment, and i’ve been confused for other SBers enough over the years (or with their opinions and positions) that i can get why some people were really alarmed at the blurring of the wall between advert. and editorial. but there are other aspects too with fall on the other side of the ledger. SB has added many good quality blogs in the last 6 months. i think it is a good thing for SB to continue and these blogs to get more attention and visibility.

  22. #22 Sharon Astyk
    July 10, 2010

    1. No opinion.

    2. It is absolutely not unprincipled. I actually largely agree with Greg, except that I wonder if there isn’t one common element among #1 and #2 – whether it is possible that most of those of us most adamant about leaving could afford to leave fairly easily. It is easiest to walk or threaten to walk if you are not too deeply financially tied to the organization, and also have other alternatives and places you might easily shift your blog to, or if you have already investigated your options due to other things.

    IMHO, this is best seen as a bit of spontaneous labor organizing and collective bargaining, and when that happens, generally speaking that’s how things shake out. Often the segments of the workforce best able to walk do first, or if there’s more time, begin to shift financial support to those less able to move on. Given that this only went on for a matter of a day, I wonder if at least some of those who left also did so because they could. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – it can be good in achieving a set of goals, but not being able to cut and run quickly doesn’t make you a better person.

    Neither, of course, does choosing the best and most ethical course you feel you can choose.

    Sharon

  23. #23 Abel Pharmboy
    July 10, 2010

    Fabulous insights from everyone! I now realize it would’ve been silly to have a poll for either question because question 2 is especially not a simple answer.

    Ed, I agree 100% with your statement, “Unconstrained by a 140-character limit, I think it is possible to applaud the principles of people who left, without casting aspersions on those of people who have (thus far) stayed.”

    What is simple and a point David Dobbs, Ed Yong, and others have stated on Twitter (and that fits in that 140 character format) is that PepsiCo buying a slot on SB for their own people to blog is an absolutely clear conflict of interest for Seed Media Group. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe there is no disagreement about this with any of the 20 or so of us here in the comment thread.

    What varied was the rate and magnitude of reaction among bloggers. As PZ and others point out, the reaction was not solely to the PepsiCo blog but some combination of continued dissatisfaction with ScienceBlogs management and technical support.

    Those of you who know me online or IRL know that I tend to the middle of the road in controversies and only infrequently act on impulse. Yet my blog queue does have a draft post saved on July 6 at 8:47 pm entitled, “Terrasig Leaving ScienceBlogs,” with the text:

    Funny that this should happen on the same day that I ask readers why them come to Terra Sigillata.

    I do know that none of you come to read on a network that houses as “blog content” a blatant advertisement of a multinational company that so broadly contributes to human suffering directly, though obesity and diabetes

    I hereby declare that Terra Sigillata will be leaving ScienceBlogs in 48 hours if the PepsiCo blog, Food Frontiers, is not removed from the network.

    Instead, I took a few deep breaths, talked to my wife and other bloggers and started another post that night which I didn’t finish until the morning of July 7 entitled, “PepsiCo blog, Food Frontiers, is an affront to those who built the reputation of ScienceBlogs,” wherein I specifically objected to the fact that our hosts here sold one of our slots to a multinational corporation.

    The stand I chose to take was to not go on hiatus because I needed, professionally and emotionally, to use whatever bully pulpit I have here to object to the decision of SB to put that blog here in the first place under those conditions and as though it were just another blog. I hold with the utmost respect my friends who left immediately and am deeply saddened by the loss of community. But I specifically pointed out I was angry not at any bloggers but rather at SB and Seed for creating a situation that left many of my friends with no choice but to leave the network, either because of them being professional journalists or bloggers-only who found this to be the last straw.

    ERV, I’m sorry but your post was completely unnecessary, destructive, disrespectful, and childish. As you can see from this thread, these were not easy decisions for anyone and the degree of name-calling of your colleagues did not reflect well on your professionalism. Some standards of behavior are not generational.

    This ScienceBlogs thing is a very interesting beast. We bloggers are, when it comes down to it, independent contractors who provide unedited content to the network in return for a very small amount of compensation and the assurance of a functioning technical setup. ScienceBlogs started as a really interactive community that was well-supported by people like Christopher Mims, Katherine Sharpe, and Virginia Hughes. Adam Bly never seemed to be engaged at all. I missed the one opportunity to meet him when he invited bloggers to his NYC apartment in July, 2007.

    But although we are contractors, we provide 99% of the content here. And as I said before, ScienceBlogs would not have been an attractive enough advertising opportunity for Pepsi if it were not for the reputation we built over the last 4.5 years. Mixing it in as though it were a regular blog was absolutely wrong and it differed from previous corporate-sponsored blogs where some of you were actually asked to provide content around a topic, not as a propaganda machine for the company.

    And although we are contractors, we all have a vested interest in the success of this enterprise because I think we all joined to further the communication of science and actively combat scientific misinformation. Many of us have suggested to management some great ideas to enhance the reach (and business returns) of SB but it falls on deaf ears. We did get a PDF of a handwritten note from Bly when SB had its record traffic day a couple of months ago. And while Bly had time to start a blog, there has been no formal apology, no further personal contact with bloggers, and no direct contact with the SB blogger community other than the promise of a conference call that still has not been scheduled. I guess we can just go comment on his blog and hope for a response from him or Lee Billings.

    I derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from being here and having my blog read a bigger audience than I’d be likely to have back on Blogger or WordPress. (Samantha, I really appreciate your sentiments – thank you.) The community here has, I think, made me a better writer and someone who thinks more broadly about science, policy, and culture. Being here has been the liberal arts education that I missed as an undergrad.

    But I do have to say that ScienceBlogs is trying really hard to get the rest of us to leave. Many of us are staying because we are so deeply committed to the mission of the enterprise and are willing to forgive even this incomprehensible conflict of interest by a media company. But this is beginning to become the blog analogy of an abusive relationship and I suspect that the next several weeks will indeed be pivotal for many.

  24. #24 Jason G. Goldman
    July 10, 2010

    This, Abel (#23) is the best summary of my feelings I’ve read (or written) so far. Completely agree.

  25. #25 Ed Yong
    July 10, 2010

    Abel, you continue to provide some of the most urbane and thoughtful contributions to this debate.

  26. #26 Jason G. Goldman
    July 10, 2010

    ScienceBlogs started as a really interactive community

    Is this something that necessarily becomes lost as a community grows, or is this something that can reasonably be rebuilt and maintained?

  27. #27 David Dobbs
    July 10, 2010

    Again (as I set aside packing to take my wife to her birthday dinner), ditto what Ed said, and simpatico to Abel. And yes: a diversity of blogger responses to seed’s blunder is not only natural but useful: I left partly bc I figured it would take both stayer/objectors and leaver/objectors to change Seed’s behavior.

    Gotta go. Dinner and my own true love await.

    Xxoo’s to Pharmboy,

    David “Defector” Dobbs

  28. #28 Silver
    July 10, 2010

    My original reply was “Can I just go with ‘What Ed Yong said?’”
    I’ve refreshed the comments page, and Abel’s #23 is now up, so… that plus also #23.
    After following this whole… snarl… for the past several days, I appreciate that Abel and PalMD have been keeping threads on track for respectful, productive, functional discussions. (There may be others; I don’t follow all the blogs, so I apologize if I’m missing them.) Thanks for this.

  29. #29 ERV
    July 10, 2010

    PZ-There has also been a simmering discontent over very poor tech support at Sb, and some purely pragmatic forces are contributing to the unrest.
    How is that Pepsis fault?

    ERV, I’m sorry but your post was completely unnecessary, destructive, disrespectful, and childish. As you can see from this thread, these were not easy decisions for anyone and the degree of name-calling of your colleagues did not reflect well on your professionalism. Some standards of behavior are not generational.
    I point out hypocrisy and bullshit. I appreciate when my own hypocrisy and bullshit is pointed out to me.

    But I wont pretend Im wrong when Im not.

    EXAMPLE #97236594: the “it’s no big deal” crowd were being disingenuous at best, but the spittle-flecked incoherent rantings of ERV/”The Situation” did provide some comic relief. :)
    I dont know Jennifer from Eve. Ive never said a word to this woman. I didnt even know she had a blog here. But she thinks its funny to make fun of being healthy, exactly the sentiment I brought up seven months ago (Jocks vs Nerds). Response? *crickets*

    I could have sworn a few days ago everyone was ranting about how unhealthy Pepsi is.

    Googled Jennifer. ‘Science journalist’ that leeches off the work of scientists to make it BIG in HALLYWOOD!

    And Im supposed to believe people left for their ‘integrity’?

    Believe Im mean all you want. I wasnt ‘mean’ until people started badmouthing SEED.

    But if you want to prove my point is wrong, you have to do better.

  30. #30 Hank Fox
    July 10, 2010

    Followup on my earlier comment on ERV:

    I entered a critical comment to ERV’s post “SciBlogs caves to hysterics,” but it never showed up. ERV has an approval gateway in comments, and that’s fine, but he/she also apparently deletes comments that he/she considers unflattering.

    As I said earlier, he/she is kind of a dick.

    I love people who demonstrate passion, and I don’t mind strong language in the least, but to viciously attack people – calling them “pig fuckers,” “ungrateful media whore,” “fucking two-faced ass,” and “hypocritical spineless shits” – just because you can is the sign of a juvenile and a bully.

  31. #31 Ex-Scibling
    July 10, 2010

    As one who was once part of this community, for several years several years ago, I’ve been watching this Pepsi incident unfold with interest and sadness. Although I am not a blogger here anymore, I still very much care that ScienceBlogs lives and breathes on because the principles it was purportedly founded on are wonderful. Open exchange of information, some expert opinions, some lay thoughts, public posting of a body of work, freedom to criticize without reprisal, the opportunity to create a community based on central thoughts and discussions.

    Sound familiar?

    Sounds a lot like academia. Bloggers here are, in a loose way, tenured faculty with protections of ideas and speech. The pay is nominal. The thrill of discovery or engaging in thoughtful discussion is the real reward. They are promoted based on their work ethic and quality of work (the promoting is done by readers though, not Seed!). The reputation of their institution is nearly as valuable as their own, for better or worse, and there is a clear incentive to improve that reputation. Additionally, they have a vested interest in who is admitted as a colleague. Its not just about your neighbors, its about who will participate and carry on the discussion you hope to lead.

    So, what then might happen if someone tried to buy a professor position at your institution? Wouldn’t you feel upset and betrayed?

    Don’t take the comparison too seriously. I’m now entrenched in academia and recognize the many differences. However, as with academia, problems crop up when the system tries to turn a profit rather than turn an idea. Just check out the many unaccredited for-profit universities and degree mills. I do realize that contributions can be made by such institutions, but the waters become murkier. Its easy to say that being true to science is in line with making money, but the truth is that they often do not align.

    Seed, and hence Adam Bly, needs to do some soul searching as to what can realistically be accomplished when the bottom line is a dollar sign. This incident is an ugly example of the two principle clashing, and truth in science losing. He styles himself as the dean of the scienceblogs university, but even the most ivory-towered of deans have faculty meetings once in awhile.

  32. #32 Chris Clarke
    July 11, 2010

    What are you, ERV; 12 years old? 6?

    You have many years of hard work ahead of you before you can claim to have done as much for the sciences as Jennifer has, or Rebecca Skloot, or for that matter many of the other colleagues you’ve slandered.

    You say you “didn’t know Jennifer from Eve”? Well, a few days ago I had no idea that you existed. I’ve been a writer focusing on the sciences since before you were born. I am strongly predisposed to look favorably on young women who are starting careers in the sciences and who write besides, and yet after just a few days exposure to your writing I come away with the impression that you’re an unprofessional, toxic boor with nothing of value to contribute to this discussion, driven by jealousy of other people’s professional success and attention-seeking.

    And this is coming from someone who *likes* obnoxious people, who thinks PZ soft-pedals his message at times.

    Seriously. You have some valid points to make. Make them. Lose the personal attacks. They only boost the credibility of the person you slam, and undermine your own.

  33. #33 Cashmoney
    July 11, 2010

    Why are the journalists and assorted free-lance writers not more exercised about the non-payment issue? This is hovering in the background. Is it common for media to stiff free-lance contributor?

  34. #34 Sharon Astyk
    July 11, 2010

    #33 – From my experience it isn’t especially common to be outright stiffed, but doing what Seed has done and paying infrequently and irregularly is not uncommon. Maybe the reason it hasn’t bothered me enough to do much is that since December I’ve only been paid for three months – never got in the habit of receiving money from them ;-).

    Sharon

  35. #35 The Solution
    July 11, 2010

    But she thinks its funny to make fun of being healthy

    She wasn’t making fun of you for being healthy, she was making fun of you for showing off. “The Situation” got his name from gratuitously putting his abs on display.

  36. #36 Kobayashi Maru
    July 11, 2010

    ERV is just another PZ-wannabe retread with an insecurity complex the size of Oklahoma. Sadly this complex remains firmly wedged squarely between both ears, preventing from hearing anything constructive and only encouraging her to type shit like HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA I CAN’T HEAR YOU FUCK YOU OK THX BYEEE!!!!!!!ELEVENTY!!!!!!!

  37. #37 ERV
    July 11, 2010

    Actually, Hank, you just went to the wrong thread. Glad you came back here to correct yourself. But Im not posting your comments now :-D

    The Solution– she was making fun of you for showing off
    Yes. Showing off the fact that it is possible to enjoy ‘BAD’ food and maintain a healthy body, contrary to the comments ripping through SciBlogs re: Pepsi.

    I do not condone attitudes that encourage disordered eating, a position that has been clear on ERV for a very long time. I didnt know that was funny.

    Chris Clarke– You have many years of hard work ahead of you before you can claim to have done as much for the sciences as Jennifer has…
    Shes sold out to Hollywood (I dont care). But is condemning SciBlogs because she judged scientists as sell-outs for working for Pepsico, and judged them before they were allowed to post anything, assuming what they said would hurt everyones ‘integrity’.

    Yet she helped them make ‘The Watchmen’ movie against the wishes of Alan Moore, unconcerned about her ‘integrity’, despite being a writer herself.

    Its hypocritical.

    I also dont think that is funny.

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    July 11, 2010

    Then, there is this: http://xrl.in/5tom

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    July 11, 2010

    So, what then might happen if someone tried to buy a professor position at your institution? Wouldn’t you feel upset and betrayed?

    Good question, and I like the analogy. But I don’t care for the presumed answer I think many people will have. Here, let me google that for you. And then there’s this. In management schools they’ll even sponsor your locker.

  40. #40 becca
    July 11, 2010

    ERV- First, where has anyone ever said “it’s NEVER possible to enjoy a Pepsi and be remotely healthy, EVER”? You are wrong because you are attacking a strawman position.

    Second, why don’t you post your glucose fasting test results, and demonstrate your insulin sensitivity, instead of posting about your abs which can only lead thinking people to conclude 1) you are interested in visual attractiveness over actual, scientifically measurable health and 2) you are vain and shallow as hell.

    Third, if you really want Seed to endure, do you really think the way you are “defending” it is going to help? You are throwing ridiculous shitfits over *other* people’s “hysterics” and then ranting about hypocrisy. You have to be the least self-reflective person I’ve ever met. Get a grip.

  41. #41 PalMD
    July 11, 2010

    I’m sorry to continue to feed the troll, but if abbie is so concerned about Jennifer “selling out to hollywood” (whatever the fuck that means) then why can’t she see that others might not like being seen to “sell out” to a major corp?

    Of course, “selling out” was never the issue, and neither was PepsiCo, but she couldn’t be bothered to read and comprehend the various posts written by more thoughtful and experienced folks.

  42. #42 Chris Clarke
    July 11, 2010

    For the record, for anyone reading who might not know Jennifer, her “selling out to Hollywood” consists of working to help writers and directors of motion pictures get their science right: work that anyone in his or her right mind should applaud.

  43. #43 Abel Pharmboy
    July 11, 2010

    Chris, I also wanted to add my strong support for what Jennifer Ouelette does with the Science & Entertainment Exchange. This is a two-year-old program of the National Academy of Sciences that does indeed provide guidance to filmmakers and television producers to ensure scientific authenticity of content and portrayal of scientists.

    I have been fortunate to be called upon three times by Jennifer and her staff to provide consultation and background on projects including a movie and a HBO feature film. I am grateful to Jennifer for being our bridge to Hollywood to allow us to have direct impact on the scientific content of mainstream entertainment.

    A good scientist would gather all the data about Jennifer’s position before making childish conclusions.

    For more information on the Science & Entertainment Exchange of the National Academy of Sciences, go to:

    http://www.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org/

    Thanks, Jennifer, for all you do on our behalf to interface with the entertainment community in this mass media outreach program.

  44. #44 Jennifer Ouellette
    July 11, 2010

    Wow, I missed all the drama on this thread. :) Thx to Chris and Abel for clarifying on my behalf, and thanks to Abel for coming to the Exchange’s aid on several occasions when writers were stumped on pharmacology questions — once, while recovering from a serious illness. A couple other Sciblings have also helped the Exchange, so thanks to them as well.

    I should add that the Exchange is 100% nonprofit and the scientists who participate usually do so voluntarily. And my role is one of making an introduction and getting the hell out of the way so the two groups can interact without my interference. The notion that this intrinsically self-effacing position is somehow indicative of me “selling out” to “make it big in Hollywood’ by leeching off scientists is far too laughable to be taken seriously as an insult. :)

    Personal attacks are one thing. Abbie is free to vent her wrath on me as much as she chooses if it makes her feel better. But the Exchange itself does not deserve to be attacked, so thanks again for clarifying.

  45. #45 Greg Laden
    July 11, 2010

    I should add that the Exchange is 100% nonprofit and the scientists who participate usually do so voluntarily.

    Huh. I wonder … If they were paid a lot — I mean a LOT — if their service would be even more valued and hollywood would thus get it even more right.

  46. #46 Jennifer Ouellette
    July 11, 2010

    @Greg: Honestly? I WISH more of the scientists were paid for their expertise, because they’ve certainly earned it. Then again, they might be accused of “selling out.” :) Truth is, the paid consulting business model just doesn’t work for this, mostly because of how the system works. Scientists can have the most impact by getting involved in the early development stage, and that’s when there is no budget. Everyone’s working on spec. (Hollywood is a town of freelancers, in essence.) The more Hollywood comes into contact with real-world scientists and interacts with them freely, the more this will impact their portrayal of science and scientists.

    That’s the idea, anyway. The National Academy of Sciences is doing the experiment, and it’s a long-running one, at that (real change takes years). We’ll see if/how much it works.

  47. #47 aidel
    July 12, 2010

    #1 I have no idea but there would be good odds for my guess.

    #2 This is going to sound contradictory but I’ll do my best to explain: In no way do I consider bloggers who remain at Sb unprincipled. Bloggers were not included in the decision making process or even warned that a big business would be paying seed for hosting a blog under the umbrella of Sb. (I wonder how much PepsiCo paid and how Sb would respond to an individual who wants to “buy” a blog slot.) That being said, Sb is a community which pretends (in the sense of pretense) to have certain values/standards for content. These values are not unlike the ethical standards of science itself: transparency, truth telling and critical discourse (which in a sense is like peer review). Writers on Sb are engaging in a relatively new form of journalism (indexed by Google News) and as such, has a responsibility to adhere to the ethical standards of journalism. By including what amounts to a paid advertisement masquerading as a source of reliable information (without any prior discussion), Seed Media has violated more than one minimum standard for ethical conduct and in the process, violated the trust, credibility and reputation of all of the individual (or group) bloggers. This is not just irresponsible behavior but criminal. And this crime must not go unpunished. There may be some bloggers who, for whatever reason, are either unable or unwilling to leave Sb. The individual bloggers are not responsible for this debacle, and therefore judgement on their decision(s) to remain at Sb must be suspended. HOWEVER, every single blogger who feels like her/his integrity has been compromised (and it has!) SHOULD leave Sb. *Should,* not must — because this is a matter of community integrity AND personal integrity.

    I predict Sb will soon fold.

    I suggest groups of like-minded bloggers form their own platforms. It’s a lot of work, money is involved, but it’s worth it. Furthermore, ERV and Isis should have their own special blog group of two. They may think they have nothing in common, but quite consistently, their behavior proves otherwise. Janet should be the Queen of her blog group, not to mention Queen of the Universe (please note that the philosopher/ethicist has already done the right thing). What I don’t understand is why bloggers continue to think inside the box of advertisements as a means of financial survival. There MUST be a better/alternative way. Grants? Publishers? Universities? Form a non-profit? AND you should all be getting paid. Really paid. You are a smart bunch, put your heads together and figure it out.

    I know a couple of people who spend a large part of every year working to put on one of the best, most affordable, fun (and with perfect gender parity, even with an open lottery) blogging conferences in the country. Meals are included, the wi-fi is excellent, first rate speakers, free, frequent shuttles to and from the hotel -to conference and airport- everything you could possibly want (except a free massage), and what do they get in return? The immeasurable satisfaction of a job well done, but not one red penny (for all those months, days, and hours!) It is a mitzvah to give generously but, as long as cash is required for basic survival, those who give should also get some reward, especially great bloggers.

  48. #48 Kat
    July 12, 2010

    1- I suspect ScienceBlogs initiated the discussion, but that’s just a gut feeling. I have no way of knowing of course.
    2- No, definitely does not make you or any of the other unprincipled in any way. Although I was certainly not happy with the Pepsi blog idea, I think their reactions were a bit overkill (or more accurately, premature). Although I definitely still respect them for doing what they felt they had to do.
    There are many reasons I don’t think this makes you unprincipled, but the biggest is that the Pepsi Blog never even made it past the introductory stages. I think the best course of action was to wait it out and see how it played out- and since it got pulled anyway there is nothing to worry about.

  49. #49 Chris Clarke
    July 12, 2010

    I like the way aidel thinks.

  50. #50 Joe
    July 12, 2010

    1. I dunno

    2. No. The folks who left were too hasty if Pepsi were the only concern. (Some said it was just the last straw.) The fact that the situation was resolved so quickly and, presumably, lessons were learned means that anyone who left for that, sole reason could have waited.

  51. #51 Greg Laden
    July 13, 2010

    Jennifer [46]: Honestly, I don’t know. I defer to you entirely. It seems to me that when a category of expert is brought into a commercial enterprise, used in important ways, and never paid, that this is ideal for those getting the expertise and not paying for it. That is a little like the early days of contract archaeology, where institution based archaeologists went into proposed construction areas and provided compliance to (early forms of) law and regulation to road builders and so on. Later, when archaeology was professionalized, the effort became less academic, but more consistently done, and a lot of archaeological sites were saved that otherwise never would have been. More to the point, however, this earlier period of (Oh, we’ll do it for free because we love the idea) contributed to the fact that the first decade or so of professional compliance archeology, the professionalism wasn’t complete, the pay sucked, and when push came to shove, the archy’s were shoved and pushed out of the way.

    Hollywood is an utterly different situation because although “getting it right” and needing experts for that is parallel to EIS compliance, it is nothing close to a regulated requirement. I don’t know anything about the business model. I certainly have helped novelists and even some journalists writing non-fiction a number of times, in those early stages, where there was no money flowing anywhere, and there was no expectation of pay. On the other hand, Microsoft sure got paid for their software the same people were using, and Office Max did not offer free paper for the novelists to print their novels on using the criterion that no money was flowing yet.

    So, yes, it is all very complicated. I guess I would feel better if we were working towards a model where expert science consultants were not treated differently than script writers. Meaning, I suppose, like shit but with the prospect of some remuneration sometimes.

    But again, I know nothing about it. I have questions but no valid opinions.

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